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Sex & Relationships

Non-Monogamy Showed Me What It Really Means to Be With Someone

Being in an open relationship flies in the face of everything we are brought up to believe about ‘loose’ women being undesirables.

Reaching new heights of ecstasy
Photo Credit: gpointstudio

Non­-monogamy, polyamory, open relationships: whatever your preferred term, it can be a heavy word to drop at the dinner table.

For many, it conjures up images of swinging 70s’ couples throwing keys in a bowl post-­fondue party, or sexual free-­for­-alls in darkened, Latex­-scented nightclubs. 

It’s not even something with a stellar track record of media representation, either: when non-­monogamy is seen on our screens it’s usually in the context of a cult leader with a throng of brides, each of them clad in neck-high gingham and seeming to have more in common with the Manson family than any modern relationship.

For most of my life I was as monogamous as it was possible to be, almost to a fault. I found that jealousy would frequently rear its head if my partner or crush du jour was so much as spotted in the same room as someone who might chance at a flirt. 

Only when I was in my mid­-20s did I meet a man who tipped that attitude on its head and told me that although he was as interested in me as I was in him, he was already in a successful open relationship and monogamy was not an option. 

My choice was clear: I could either give it a chance and try dating someone who already had a partner, or risk losing them for good.

What I experienced surprised me in the best possible way. While I initially feared I would become a quivering nervous wreck at the thought of my partner with someone else, the openness and honesty we developed assuaged my fears and rid me of my worry of being a “back­-up girlfriend”. 

At no point did I feel neglected or envious; indeed, I found non-­monogamy worked for me better than any relationship formula I’d seen in the past. I got to know my partner’s partner, and we got along well, and while they shared romantic weekends away and dinner dates together I was free to date and hook­-up as much as I wanted. 

And spoiler alert: I did.

Once I let go of the fears and insecurities I had previously held around relationships, I was granted a fresh perspective on what it meant to be with someone. The more I thought about non­-monogamy, the more it made sense to me: the idea that we might meet someone and decide that we want to be with them and only them for the rest of our lives seemed unrealistic at best, and terrifying at worst. 

Who am I to demand a partner never again indulge a crush, share a kiss at a party, or take someone to bed? And who are they to demand the same of me? Beyond the thought of getting a big diamond and an expensive dress, marriage had never really appealed to me, and I couldn’t imagine myself now wanting to make that choice. 

Likewise, I never had much of a maternal instinct, and after 27 years of having a completely silent biological clock it seems only right that I should focus on having rich and fulfilling romantic relationships instead of aiming for a husband, three children, and a white picket fence.

It’s true that non­-monogamy presents some unique challenges (is it possible to maintain a friendship with your partner’s partner after they’ve broken up? Is it ever ethical to sleep with your partner’s partner’s partner? It can get complex!), but I mostly found it a refreshing break from the way I, as a woman, had previously been told to operate in relationships. In a society where women in particular have their worth tied to how many people they’ve slept with and how many past relationships they have had, being sexually and romatically involved with two or more people at once is still a radical act. 

Non-monogamy flies in the face of everything we are brought up to believe about “loose” women being undesirables; and as so many people still cling to the ideal of the virginal bride wearing white it’s a relief to look at relationships in a new light, one that celebrates what we are able to give rather than who we’ve slept with in the past.

 

Even more important than any of this, non-­monogamy helped me to reassess and redefine the values I sought in – and brought to – a relationship. 

So frequently, important and necessary qualities like trustworthiness, loyalty, honesty, and faithfulness are tied up with the idea of commitment, which itself is often taken to mean “I promise never to sleep with anyone else” instead of “I promise to dedicate as much time and energy towards this relationship as I healthily can”. 

It is entirely possible to be in a relationship where loyalty, trust, and honesty are valued while both partners sleep with and date other people: I would know. I have lived it more than once.

Of course, I don’t believe that non­-monogamy works for everyone. While everyone in my social circle is more than accepting of my slightly unorthodox dating life (“Bring your boyfriend to dinner,” they have offered, “Or your other boyfriend!”), few of them have made the same choice. Not everyone can happily extend themselves to imagining their partner with someone else.

I can only speak for myself and what works for me, and what that is is a thoughtful and genuine approach to relationships in which I have made the conscious choice to opt out of promising myself to the one person for the rest of my existence. 

Non-­monogamy opened my mind as much as it opened my dating life; and no longer is the idea of my partner on a wonderful date with someone who loves them a worst case scenario. 

Suddenly, it’s the best.

 

Kate Iselin is a writer living in Sydney. Her work has appeared in Kill Your Darlings, Spook, and Daily Life. She chronicles her sex and dating adventures on her Tumblr, Thirty Dates of Tinder.

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